Define Function

DEP #:



Standards Track




Bill Chiles









Note: This DEP was converted from the old Dylan Change Proposal Format to DEP format with minimal changes for ReStructuredText. It does not fully conform to the new format.


Add a “define function” defining macro that creates a constant binding in the current module and initializes it to a new function. The new defining macro has the following syntax:

DEFINE { adjective }* FUNCTION name parameter-list
  [ body ]
END [ FUNCTION ] [ name ]

The adjectives allowed are implementation dependent. The parameter list describes the number and types of the arguments that the function accepts, and the number and types of the values it returns. It is an error to supply #next in the parameter list, and there is no implicit #next parameter.

Using reflective operations on “define function” functions:

  1. For the following functions an implementation may choose to return a meaningful result (or perform a meaningful side-effect operation), or the implementation may signal an error:

    generic-function-methods, add-method, find-method,
    generic-function-mandatory-keywords, remove-method,
    sorted-applicable-methods, applicable-method?

    Note, the error signalled might not be a <sealed-object-error>, and this implementation choice holds for a “define function” function that is passed as either argument to add-method and remove-method.

  2. The following functions return the same values as they would for a bare method defined with the same signature:

    function-specializers, function-arguments,

“Define function” could be added either to the core language or to a library.


Many programmers desire a way to define a function that clearly says to other programmers that the function is not part of any generic operation; furthermore, the function won’t be extended as a generic function, and calling it need not involve any generic dispatch. The two main choices in current practice are:

define constant cube = method (x) x * x * x end;

define method cube (x) x * x * x end;

The first choice is clumsy because it makes it hard to distinguish function constants from non-function constants. The second choice does not make it clear that this is the only method for the function. The “define function” proposal gives everybody one simple way to express their intent. The expansion of the macro is left unspecified so that Dylan implementations have latitude to support it in the best way suited to the implementation.

This proposal defines the behavior of applicable-method? when called on “define function” functions based on new wording that describes applicable-method? in the DRM.


An example use:

define function cube (x) x * x * x end;

Below is one possible implementation of the macro. This implementation supports whatever adjectives are supported by “define constant”. Other implementations are possible.

define macro function-definer
    { define ?adjectives:* function ?name:name
         ?signature-and-body:* end }
    => { define ?adjectives constant ?name = method
         ?signature-and-body end }
end macro function-definer;

Cost to Implementors

The cost is very little, essentially a macro definition and exporting the identifier for the macro. An implementation may also want to annotate the function’s name in the compiler’s database to indicate that the function should not be extended (or added to a generic function if it is a method), signalling appropriate errors or protecting compiler optimizations based on assumptions about the function.

Revision History

Version 1; Harlequin, Inc.; Bill Chiles; 26 JAN 96.
   Initial proposal with input from a few people.
Version 2; Harlequin, Inc.; Bill Chiles; 01 FEB 96.
   New specification of reflective operations on functions.
   Replaces rationale text for the specification of reflective
      operations with one sentences about applicable-method?.
   Strengthens #next restriction by saying there is no implicit
      #next argument.
   Removes controversial macro example.
Version 3; Harlequin, Inc.; Bill Chiles; 08 FEB 96.
   Described "define function" defining macro without reference to
      "define method".
Version 4; Harlequin, Inc.; Peter Norvig 13 MAR 96.
   Changed format to meet the new Dylan Change Proposal Format.
   Added two possible macro implementations.
Version 5; Kim Barrett 31 Dec 1996
   Removed incorrect example macro definition which used "define method"
   in the expansion.  (Incorrect because it introduces an implicit binding
   of a variable named "next-method" around the body, which is counter to
   the specified contract for this macro.)


Accepted 31 December 1996